Haven’t you heard anyone say – ‘Too much of anything is bad’? Or some of you may have read what Mark Twain once said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” Mark Twain has a funny way of saying witty things. I recommend you read some more of him if you haven’t already.
Why am I talking about Mark Twain here? That’s because as many in India and may be some outside India are gearing up for the upcoming Ganesh Chaturthi festival, you are going to see shores deluged with idols and other waste products, so many in so little time.
For those who don’t know about this festival, it is about the Hindu-elephant God Ganesha. This festival has been celebrated for years, but it only gained momentum when Lokmanya Tilak revived it as a festival that will bring communities together. And so each year, it transforms every gully, ever nook and corner of India, especially the city of Mumbai, into a holy place during this festival. If Lokmanya Tilak were here now, I wonder what he would think of the scale at which this festival is celebrated now and what changes would be necessary to tackle the ill effects of it. Everything around you evolves. This festival too has evolved into a much celebrated public festival but at the cost of the environment around us.
During immersion, as the tides raze the idols, people go back to their homes. What is left behind are pieces of PoP and a lot of other solid waste like thermocol. A lot of it at a same place can have environmental consequences. Effects of idol immersion on the environment include increased turbidity of water bodies. As the reaction of water and PoP proceeds, it emits heat, that is it is exothermic. Local hot spots like these can cause problems. It also leads to pollution due to paint used on the idol and it may cause bio-magnification – a process through which chemicals accumulate in food chain – that we are a part of.
Three years back, Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray defied environmentalists by saying “Plaster of Paris idols don’t affect environment.” It’s the job of environmentalists to raise concerns and it is the job of such politicians to make sure they are supported to conduct scientific experiments. Call them theoretical environmentalists if you may (just like theoretical physicists). Theories apart, the same year, researchers at the Dr. R M L Avadh University, Faizabad (U.P.) studied the effects of idol immersions on some water quality parameters of Saryu river. The paper is published in European Journal of Experimental Biology.
A year before that, an assessment of idol immersion on physico-chemical characteristics of River Tapti was conducted by researchers at the Zoology Department at Guru Nanak Khalsa College, Mumbai. This research has been published in the Indian Journal of Fundamental and Applied Life Sciences. River Tapti’s conditions have also been verified by other researchers at Department of Biosciences at V.N.S.G.University, Surat and published in the Journal of Environmental Research And Development.
Similar study has been done for Kolar River in Saoner, Nagpur. Researchers at the Department of Zoology at Bhalerao Science College, have called for creative action on handling this situation as their assessment reveals nothing different. Their research has been published in the International Research Journal of Environment Sciences. A proof of slow pollution because of PoP was provided by researchers at M.P. Pollution Control Board, Bhopal. It has been published in International Journal of Scientific Engineering and Technology.
Although my previous post ‘Pollution and festivals’ mentions some other studies that are done over the years 2010-2013 for this festival, I hope more scientific studies into this will be encouraged. As to what we can do about this is – choose idols that have biodegradable paints on them and are made of clay. Communities can use a confined pond for immersion and devise ways to manage waste that is create locally. Many more such suggestions have been made by researchers mentioned above. The links will take you to websites where full PDFs are accessible.